Salpointe’s football leader, Dennis Bene, isn’t the coach his football players spend the most time with throughout the year.
When Bene and his coaching staff aren’t with the football team, the coach who’s left in charge of helping Salpointe’s players mature physically is Carla Garrett, Salpointe’s strength and conditioning coach. But Garrett goes above and beyond the description of her job title.
The very dedicated and wise Garrett also is Salpointe’s mother hen, offering guidance that helps her boys mature emotionally as well. She grew up in a single parent household, and can relate to some of the ups and downs kids can go through, even at a private school such as Salpointe.
Oh, did we mention that Garrett also is a female strength coach in a male dominated field? But she doesn’t have to display her resume with her superb feats as a thrower and power lifter to comprehend that Garrett is pro.
“For somebody who just met coach Garrett, all it takes is being three minutes with her to understand how serious she is about what she does,” Salpointe’s senior strong safety/running back Jay Williams said.
Arguably the greatest offensive lineman to graduate from Salpointe, USC product Kris O’Dowd, also knew immediately who was in charge when he met Garrett.
On that day, Garrett was lifting when Bene unexpectedly called and asked her if she could show up in 30 minutes for her first training session with Salpointe eight seasons ago. Wearing mismatched socks and sprinkled with weightlifting chalk, Garrett rushed to Salpointe.
Once inside Salpointe’s weight room, Bene introduced Garrett and then walked out, leaving Garrett with 60 boys. She felt overwhelmed at first, Garrett said, but that didn't last long as she then ordered different groups to lift at different stations.
To add to her first day test, a fight broke out between O’Dowd and another player, but this time Garrett didn’t hesitate, showing off brawn by her grabbing the strapping O’Dowd and taking him outside of the weight room.
“I don’t want that kid in my weight room,” O’Dowd told Garrett, who doesn’t remember exactly why the fight started.
But she remembers that her actions and what she said next established her as the master of her domain.
“It’s not your weight room,” Garrett told O’Dowd. “It’s mine, and I make the decisions about who stays or leaves.”
Garrett gained the respect from the players after that incident and hasn’t lost it since.
“I had to separate the angriest and the biggest guy,” Garrett said. “They realized that I was going to jump in the mix and didn’t care if I got hurt. I don’t know if that was the beginning of them looking up to me, or the dumbest thing I’ve done.”
That’s just one of the right moves Garrett has made in her eventful life.
She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her mom, Suzan Rutherford, who showed Garrett how to shoot a jump shot and ride a bike. Basketball was Garrett’s first passion, but track and field was her ticket to college.
She was the nation’s top thrower during her senior high school season before accepting a scholarship offer from the University of Arizona. But it was the life lessons she learned from her mom that helped her attack life with a zestful purpose.
“My mom was the visionary,” Garrett said. “She knew that track and field would be my future, and she took me all over so I can compete.
“But more importantly she raised me to do the right thing.”
Garrett has only met her father, Carl Garrett, three times.
Carl played for about nine seasons in the American Football League and NFL.
“It’s completely in the past,” said the 46-year-old Garrett about the issues she had about not having her dad around. “As I have gotten older I have come to realize that you don’t need a father and a mother to teach you morals, integrity and accountability to be a good person. You only need one, and I was fortunate to have one of those.”
The lessons she learned at home are now being passed on to Salpointe's players.
“She (Garrett) really can connect from a personal point of view,” Williams said. “The thing that is really nice about her is that she cares about the people she trains.”
Garrett's dedication to throwing and lifting took her to the highest levels of competition.
She was a 10-time All-American at U of A, where she was a 3-time national champion in the shot put and discuss. Garrett also was a national champion in Olympic lifting and was a three-time silver medalist in lifting at the world championships in the early 1990s before lifting became an Olympic event in 2000.
She was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2012.
Garrett now makes a living training athletes in Tucson and has worked with some of U of A’s national championship softball teams and players, including softball legend Jenny Finch. Currently, Garrett is focused on helping Salpointe’s football team become a state champion.
“Carla is a tremendous teacher, and has earned the respect of the players in part because of her unparalleled knowledge,” Bene said. “She demands and teaches, two necessary characteristics of any good coach in my opinion.”
The No. 1 team in Division II, Salpointe, will face its stiffest test of the season on Friday when it hosts Marcos de Niza.
Garrett won’t suit up, but Salpointe’s players know that they’ll be prepared because of the work they’ve put in with their strength coach/mother hen.
“From a physical and strength aspect, we outperform schools,” Williams said. “The fact is that we are hitting and getting after teams, and all of the credit goes to coach Garrett.”
For a picture of Garrett go here.